Casey Ryan by B. M. Bower by B. M. Bower - Read Online

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B. M. Bower, was an American author who wrote novels, fictional short stories, and screenplays about the American Old West. This is one of her stories.
Published: Start Publishing LLC on
ISBN: 9781609774417
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Casey Ryan - B. M. Bower

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XXII

Chapter I

From Denver to Spokane, from El Paso to Fort Benton, men talk of Casey Ryan and smile when they speak his name. Old men with the flat tone of coming senility in their voices will suck at their pipes and cackle reminiscently while they tell you of Casey's tumultuous youth—when he drove the six fastest horses in Colorado on the stage out from Cripple Creek, and whooped past would-be holdups with a grin of derision on his face and bullets whining after him and passengers praying disjointed prayers and clinging white-knuckled to the seats.

They say that once a flat, lanky man climbed bareheaded out at the stage station below the mountain and met Casey coming springily off the box with whip and six reins in his hand. The lanky man was still pale from his ride, and he spluttered when he spoke:

Sa-ay! N-next time you're held up and I'm r-ridin' with yuh, b-by gosh, you s-stop. I-I'd ruther be shot t-than p-pitched off into a c-canyon, s-somewhere a-and busted up!

Casey is a little man. When he was young he was slim, but he always has owned a pale blue, unwinking squint which he uses with effect. He halted where he was and squinted up at the man, and spat fluid tobacco and grinned.

You're here, and you're able to kick about my drivin'. That's purty good luck, I'd say. You ain't shot, an' you ain't layin' busted in no canyon. Any time a man gits shot outa Casey Ryan's stage, he'll have to jump out an' wait for the bullet to ketch up. And there ain't any passengers offn' this stage layin' busted in no canyon, neither. I bring in what I start out with.

The other man snorted and reached under his coat tail for the solacing plug of chewing tobacco. Opposition and ridicule had brought a little color into his face.

Why, hell, man! You—you come around that ha-hairpin turn up there on two wheels! It's a miracle we wasn't—

Miracles is what happens once and lets it go at that. Say! Casey Ryan always saves wear on a coupla wheels, on that turn. I've made it on one; but the leaders wasn't runnin' right to-day. That nigh one's cast a shoe. I gotta have that looked after. He gave up the reins to the waiting hostler and went off, heading straight for the station porch where waited a red-haired girl with freckles and a warm smile for Casey.

That was Casey's youth; part of it. The rest was made up of fighting, gambling, drinking hilariously with the crowd and always with his temper on hair trigger. Along the years behind him he left a straggling procession of men, women and events. The men and women would always know the color of his eyes and would recognize the Casey laugh in a crowd, years after they had last heard it; the events were full of the true Casey flavor,—and as I say, when men told of them and mentioned Casey, they laughed.

From the time when his daily drives were likely to be interrupted by holdups, and once by a grizzly that reared up in the road fairly under the nose of his leaders and sent the stage off at an acute angle, blazing a trail by itself amongst the timber, Casey drifted from mountain to desert, from desert to plain and back again, blithely meeting hard luck face to face and giving it good day as if it were a friend. For Casey was born an optimist, and misfortune never quite got him down and kept him there, though it tried hard and often, as you will presently see. Some called him gritty. Some said he hadn't the sense to know when he was licked. Either way, it made a rare little Irishman of Casey Ryan, and kept his name from becoming blurred in the memories of those who once knew him.

So in time it happened that Casey was driving a stage of his own from Pinnacle down to Lund, in Nevada, and making boast that his four horses could beat the record—the month's record, mind—of any dog-gone auty-mo-bile that ever infested the trail. Infest is a word that Casey would have used often had he known its dictionary reputation. Having been deprived of close acquaintance with dictionaries, but having a facile imagination and some creative ability, Casey kept pace with progress and invented words of his own which he applied lavishly to all automobiles; but particularly and emphatically he applied the spiciest, most colorful ones to Fords.

Put yourself in Casey's place, and you will understand. Imagine yourself with a thirty-mile trip to make down a twisty, rough mountain road built in the days when men hauled ore down the mountain on wagons built to bump over rocks without damage to anything but human bones. You are Casey Ryan, remember; you never stopped for stage robbers or grizzlies in the past, and you have your record to maintain as the hardest driver in the West. You are proud of that record, because you know how you have driven to earn it.

You pop the lash over the ears of your leaders and go whooping down a long, straight bit of road where you count on making time. When you are about halfway down and the four horses are running even and tugging pleasantly at the reins, and you are happy enough to sing your favorite song, which begins,

"Hey, ole Bill! Can-n yuh play the fiddle-o?

Yes, by gosh! I—I—kin play a liddle-o—"

and never gets beyond that one flat statement, around the turn below you comes a Ford, rattling all its joints trying to make the hill on high. The driver honks wildly at you to give him the road—you, Casey Ryan! Wouldn't you writhe and invent words and apply them viciously to all Fords and the man who invented them? But the driver comes at you honking, squawking,—and you turn out.

You have to, unless the Ford does; and Fords don't. A Ford will send a twin-six swerving sharply to the edge of a ditch, and even Casey Ryan must swing his leaders to the right in obedience to that raucous command.

Once Casey didn't. He had the patience of the good-natured, and for awhile he had contented himself with his vocabulary and his reputation as a driver and a fighter, and the record he held of making the thirty miles from Pinnacle to Lund in an hour and thirty-five minutes, twenty-six days in the month. (He did not publish his running expenses, by the way, nor did he mention the fact that his passengers were mostly strangers picked up at the railway station at Lund because they liked the look of the picturesque four-horses-and-Casey stagecoach.)

Once Casey refused to turn out. That morning he had been compelled to wait and whip a heavy man who berated Casey because the heavy man's wife had ridden from Pinnacle to Lund the day before and had fainted at the last sharp turn in the road and had not revived in time to board the train for Salt Lake which she had been anxious to catch. Casey had known she was anxious to catch the train, and he had made the trip in an hour and twenty-nine minutes in spite of the fact that he had driven the last mile with a completely unconscious lady leaning heavily against his left shoulder. She made much better time with Casey than she would have made on the narrow-gauge train which carried ore and passengers and mail to Lund, arriving when most convenient to the train crew. That it took half an hour to restore her to consciousness was not Casey's fault.

Casey had succeeded in whipping the heavy man till he hollered, but the effort had been noticeable. Casey wondered uneasily whether by any chance he, Casey Ryan, was growing old with the rest of the world. That possibility had never before occurred to him, and the thought was disquieting. Casey Ryan too old to lick any man who gave him cause, too old to hold the fickle esteem of those who met him in the road? Casey squinted belligerently at the Old-man-with-the-scythe and snorted. I licked him good. You ask anybody. And he's twice as big as I am. I guess they's a good many years left in Casey Ryan yet! Giddap, you—thus-and-so! We're ten minutes late and we got our record!

At that moment a Ford touring car popped around the turn below him and squawked presumptuously for a clear passage ahead. Casey pulled his lash off the nigh leader, yelled and charged straight down the road. Did they think they could honk him off the road? Hunh! Casey Ryan was still Casey Ryan. Never again would he turn out for man or devil.

Wherefore Casey was presently extricating his leaders from the harness of his wheelers ten feet below the grade. On the road above him the driver of the Ford inspected bent parts and a smashed headlight and cranked and cranked ineffectively, and swore down at Casey Ryan, who squinted unblinkingly up under his hatbrim at the man he likewise cussed.

They were a long while there exchanging disagreeable opinions of one another, and Casey was even obliged to climb the steep bank and whip the driver of the Ford because he had applied a word to Casey which had never failed as automatic prelude to a Casey Ryan combat. Casey was frankly winded when he finally mounted one of his horses and led the other three, and so proceeded to Lund as mad as he had ever been in his life.

That there settles it final, he snorted, when the town came into view in the flat below. They've pushed Casey off'n the grade for the first time and the last time. What pushin' and crowdin' and squawkin' is done from now on, it'll be Casey Ryan doin' it! Faint! I'll learn 'em something to faint about. If it's Fords goin' to run horses off'n the trail, you watch how Casey Ryan'll drive the livin' tar outa one. Dog-gone 'em, there ain't no Ford livin' that can drive Casey off'n the road. I'll drive 'em till their tongues hang out. I'll make 'em bawl like a calf, and I'll pound 'em on the back and make 'em fan it faster.

So talking to himself and his team he rode into town and up to one of those ubiquitous Ford agencies that write their curly-tailed blue lettering across the continent from the high nose of Maine to the shoulder of Cape Flattery.

Gimme one of them dog-goned blankety bing-bing Ford auty-mo-biles, he commanded the garage owner who came to meet Casey amiably in his shirt sleeves. Here's four horses I'll trade yuh, with what's left of the harness. And up at the third turn you'll find a good wheel off'n the stage. He slid down from the sweaty back of his nigh leader and stood slightly bow-legged and very determined before the garage owner, Bill Masters.

Wel-l—there ain't much sale for horses, Casey. I ain't got any place to keep 'em, nor any feed. I'll sell yuh a Ford on time, and—

Casey glanced over his shoulder to make sure the horses were standing quiet, dropped the reins and advanced upon Bill.

You trade, he stated flatly.

Bill backed a little. Oh, all right, if that's the way yuh feel. What yuh askin' for the four just as they stand?

Me? A Ford auty-mo-bile. I told yuh that, Bill. And I want you to put on the biggest horn that's made; one that can be heard from here to Pinnacle and back when I turn 'er loose. And run the damn thing out here right away and show me how it works, and how often you gotta wind it and when. Lucky I didn't bring no passengers down—I was runnin' empty. But I gotta take back a load of Bohunks to the Bluebird this afternoon, and my stage, she's a total wreck. I'll sign papers to-night if you got any to sign.

Chapter II

Thus was the trade effected with much speed and few preliminaries, because Bill knew Casey Ryan very intimately and had seen him in action when his temper was up. Bill adjusted an extra horn which he happened to have in stock. One of those terrific things that go far toward making the life of a pedestrian a nerve-racking succession of startles. Casey tried it out on himself before he would accept it. He walked several doors down the street with the understanding that Bill would honk at him when he was some little distance away. Bill waited until Casey's attention was drawn to a lady with thick ankles who was crossing the street in a hurry and a stiff breeze. Bill came down on the metal plunger of the horn with all his might, and Casey jumped perceptibly and came back grinning.

She'll do. What'll put a crimp in Casey Ryan's spine is good enough for anybody. Bring her out here and show me how yuh work the damn thing. Guess she'll hold six Bohunks, won't she—with sideboards on? I'll run 'er around a coupla times b'fore I start out—and that's all I will do.

Naturally the garage man was somewhat perturbed at this nonchalant manner of getting acquainted with a Ford. He knew the road from Lund to Pinnacle. He had driven it himself, with a conscious sigh of relief when he had safely negotiated the last hair-pin curve; and Bill was counted a good driver. He suggested an insurance policy to Casey, not half so jokingly as he tried to sound.

Casey turned and gave him a pale blue, unwinking stare. Say! Never you mind gettin' out insurance on this auty-mo-bile. What you wanta do is insure the cars that's liable to meet up with me in the trail.

Bill saw the sense of that, too, and said no more about insuring Casey. He drove down the canyon where the road is walled in on both sides by cliffs, and proceeded to give Casey a lesson in driving. Casey did not think that he needed to be taught how to drive. All he wanted to know, he said, was how to stop 'er and how to start 'er. Bill needn't worry about the rest of it.

She's darn tender-bitted, he commented, after two round trips over the straight half-mile stretch,—and fourteen narrow escapes. "And the man that made 'er sure oughta known better than to make 'er neck rein in harness. And I don't like this windin' 'er up every time you wanta start. But she can sure go—and that's what Casey Ryan's after every day in the week.

All right, Bill. I'll go gather up the Bohunks and start. You better 'phone up to Pinnacle that Casey's on the road—and tell 'em he says it's his road's long's he's on it. They'll know what I mean.

Pinnacle did know, and waited on the sidewalk that afforded a view of the long hill where the road curled down around the head of the gulch and into town. Much sooner than his most optimistic backers had a right to expect— for there were bets laid on the outcome there in Pinnacle—on the brow of the hill a swirl of red dust grew rapidly to a cloud. Like a desert whirlwind it swept down the road, crossed the narrow bridge over the deep cut at the head of the gulch where the famous Youbet mine belched black smoke, and rolled on down the steep, narrow little street.

Out of the whirlwind poked the pugnacious little brass-rimmed nose of a new Ford, and behind the windshield Casey Ryan grinned widely as he swung up to the postoffice and stopped as he had always stopped his four-horse stage,—with a flourish. Stopping with a flourish is fine and spectacular when you are driving horses accustomed to that method and on the lookout for it. Horses have a way of stiffening their forelegs and sliding their hind feet and giving a lot of dramatic finish to the performance. But there is no dramatic sense at all in the tin brain of a Ford. It just stopped. And the insecure fourth Bohunk in the tonneau went hurtling forward into the front seat straight on his way through the windshield. Casey threw up an elbow instinctively and caught him in the collar button and so avoided breakage and blood spattered around. Three other foreigners were scrambling to get out when Casey stopped them with a yell that froze them quiet where they were.

Hey! You stay right where y'are! I gotta deliver yuh up to the Bluebird in a minute.

There were chatterings and gesticulations in the tonneau. Out of the gabble a shrill voice rose be-seechingly in English. We will walk, meester'. If you pleese, meester! We are 'fraid for ride wit' dees may_chine_, meester!

Casey was nettled by the cackling and the thigh-slapping of the audience on the sidewalk. He reached for his stage whip, and missing it used his ready Irish fists. So the Bohunks crawled unhappily back into the car and subsided shivering and with tears in their eyes.

Dammit, when I take on passengers to ride, they're goin' to ride till they git there. You shut up, back there!

A friend of Casey's stepped forward and cranked the machine, and Casey pulled down the gas lever until the motor howled, turned in the shortest possible radius and went lunging up the crooked steep trail to the Bluebird mine on top of the hill, his engine racing and screaming in low.

Thereafter Pinnacle and Lund had a new standard by which to measure the courage of a man. Had he made the trip with Casey Ryan and his new Ford? He had? By golly, he sure had nerve. One man passed the peak for sheer bravery and rode twice with Casey, but certain others were inclined to disparage the feat, on the ground that on the second trip he was drunk.

Casey did not like that. He admitted that he was a hard driver; he had always been proud because men called him the hardest driver in the West.